Category Archives: TV

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E02/03 – The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun! 

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Beast Below”
Season five, episode two
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan

The Beast Below

TANSY:
This is one of those favourite stories of mine that I tend to forget because of so many other favourites in this season – one of the things I especially love is the set up. The whole concept of a Starship UK, and the way a whole culture tries to recreate its past on a moving ship is fascinating to me, and all the little details of it make the place feel real – even if it is based on a lie.

DAVID:
The fact that there is something not quite right with Starship UK is evident right from the start, I love the way that it is the children who are aware of it and have built their own little rules to navigate it safely. The Smilers are delightfully creepy, too.

TANSY:
The Smilers are the reason Raeli can’t rewatch this episode! It has a real Stephen King vibe at the beginning, all sinister fairground motifs and children being aware of dangers while adults are blithely oblivious (or pretending to be so – not sure which is scarier)

Smiler

DAVID:
What a fibber the Doctor is!

“An important thing. In fact, Thing One. We are observers only. That’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.”

How he said that with a straight face, I have no idea.

TANSY:
I love that they set up through the narrative both that he is lying but also perhaps that he genuinely is fooling himself? The Doctor needs a certain degree of pomposity and it’s good that Amy is being shown this early on that it’s her job to question his grandiose statements about the universe.

(Thing One of course maps beautifully on to River Song’s Rule One but we’re not quite there yet)

DAVID:
One of the things we have seen over and over in Doctor Who is a very British future. While many other science fiction shows have a US slant, or even a sort of homogenised United Nations feel, we have seen lots of British influences and I for one love it!

TANSY:
I hope we run into Starship Scotland someday. But I agree, the gratuitous BRITISHNESS of the future is almost parodic here but it also is a lovely nod towards the history of Doctor Who and the various futures we have been shown since 1963.

Starship UK

TEHANI:
The parallels between the Star Whale and the Doctor are made overt in this – I suppose if we consider Eleven as a jumping on point for people, reiterating some of the things long-time watchers know (last of his race, alone, kind) are important. I remember them being so for me. And isn’t it interesting to see the differences in reactions between Nine, Ten and Eleven when asked about the Time Lords?

TANSY:
It’s less raw for him now, perhaps? And of course, this time around he’s had a chance to see what would happen if they came back…

DAVID:
It’s a good point that you make about the Doctor’s differing reactions when asked about the Time Lords, Tehani. I wouldn’t say he is at peace, but there is an air of quiet resignation, almost acceptance, when he talks about them that is in stark contrast to Nine especially. We’ve been on a journey with the Doctor, and there is no doubt that he is in a different place than we started.

There is also a nice little tease here when Amy asks him if he is a parent. Tansy is probably better placed to comment on this, but we’ve never really clarified all that much about the Doctor’s family, though there has been all sorts of conjecture. But, if Susan is his granddaughter (and that is a big if), then it stands to reason that the Doctor is also a father. Interesting.

StarWhale

TANSY:
As was pointed out to me recently on the Verity podcast, of course back in the 60’s no one would have questioned this at all – why would the Doctor NOT be Susan’s grandfather if he said he was? I think it was only later fandom in 80s, so secure in the Doctor’s identity as someone who was in no way sexual, who decided otherwise.

New Who, along with making the Doctor more aware of human notions of sexuality, has also already identified him as a dad back in “Fear Her” – though like being a grandfather, that could be an honorary title.

TEHANI:
Has the Doctor always been so angry at humanity for the terrible things they do? Amy cops the brunt of his anger, even though Liz 10 is really a more appropriate target! Listening to Splendid Chaps the other day and they mention it in relation to the Seventh Doctor, which is interesting to me (I’ve seen so little Classic Who I remember, and almost none outside of the Tom Baker era). Nine and Ten both showed this at various times – how far back does it go?

TANSY:
He’s quite mean to Amy in this one, which is an element I really don’t like – very harsh on her in a way reminiscent of Eccleston with Mickey or Adam. The Doctor is hot and cold about humans, honestly. Sometimes he’s supremely scathing and other times he loves them to bits. It’s an unhealthy relationship really! Hartnell despised most people but not humanity specifically – Pertwee had some definite anti-human moments, notably when the Brigadier was blowing things up as with the Silurians. Tom Baker praised humans for being ‘indomitable’ in one story and yet sneered at them in others. Like the Doctor being ‘non-violent’ there’s so many exceptions that it’s practically a rule.

DAVID:
It’s interesting that the thing that he gets angriest about (other than the imprisonment of the Star Whale, of course) is something he does to his companions, and those around him, all the time! There have been plenty of times that the Doctor has decided what others need to know, with varying results. Ace in “The Curse of Fenric” is an extreme example, but there are plenty of others.

I do think he was overly harsh, but he did have a point. For all Amy knew, the Star Whale might have simply shrugged off the whole city before even realising it!

TANSY:
Ha yes, she gets away with her random behaviour purely because she is lucky. But then the Doctor does that all the time – gets (mostly) good results from random life choices.

The City

TEHANI:
This episode is as much about establishing Amy’s character (impulsive, observant, curious, caring) as it is about new viewers learning about the Doctor. She seems to have an almost instinctive understanding of how the Doctor works – she’s been travelling with him approximately five minutes, but she already knows him well enough to know that he will not be happy about the Star Whale situation…

TANSY:
I love that she solves it by seeing an option that he doesn’t – and saves him from doing something terrible. And the scene of them being swallowed by the whale is quite funny and entertaining – possibly one of the grossest Doctor-companion bonding moments of all time.

DAVID:
That’s spot on, Tehani. Straight away we discover the sort of companion Amy is going to be, that she is filled with a sense of wonder, but refuses to be overawed by anything, including the Doctor. I don’t think the multiple mentions of her Scottish heritage are coincidental, she is being deliberately painted as independent minded, and unwilling simply to take answers at face value.

TANSY:
It’s interesting that we are now seeing a tradition where companions are pretty much auditioned for the role over their first few stories, as if there’s some kind of probationary period – or an exam they might (like Adam) fail terribly. There’s always the possibility that the Doctor might fail them and dump them home at any minute – and while it is more realistic to show the companion developing the skills needed to travel with the Doctor over a number of stories, there is a power dynamic to it that is a bit uncomfortable. More so here than in “The End of the World”, say, or “Gridlock”, but I do think it’s an element they could back away from.

I especially don’t like the Doctor’s quickness to condemn Amy in this story because frankly, after the events of “The Eleventh Hour”, why can’t we see him failing to live up to HER expectations which must be massively over-inflated after all these years?

TEHANI:
Yes, considering how much he has to live up to in Amy’s eyes, and how much she’s already been let down by him, it’s a bit rich!

TANSY:
Something I found fascinating about this season (because of course having kids who love the merch) is that the toy manufacturers picked out elements that they thought would be important and iconic ahead of time, and made the toys accordingly with some very mixed results. The Smilers in this one were evidently supposed to catch on, because they turned up in the Character Options not-Lego and I think got an action figure too. The priesty bloke in this also turned up on some of the merchandise – and yet the toy people didn’t realise that Liz10 was the OBVIOUSLY most visually interesting character in the episode?

Liz10

TEHANI:
Oh, I didn’t know that! I’m not much into the merch (the bits I have so far are TOTALLY PRACTICAL!) so it’s not something I’d notice. But that’s what happens when they don’t let people like us make such decision. 🙂

TANSY:
Liz10 springs off the page, a fascinating character, so complex and flawed with a hell of a backstory. I love how she starts out like a Cockney space mercenary like Han Solo, and yet reverts to her more refined Queen persona – and that she has been working out the mystery all along, just as the Doctor does, only she’s done it dozens of times over.

Fun fact, Sophie Okonedo (Liz10) was the companion in “The Scream of the Shalka”, a webcast audio/animation written by Paul Cornell which was intended to relaunch Doctor Who in 2003 before the actual show was recommissioned and buried the project. Richard E Grant played the Ninth Doctor in it, and Derek Jacobi was the Master. It’s coming out on DVD imminently!

TEHANI:
That IS a fun fact! And I think that might have just come out – sounds cool!

DAVID:
Liz10 is the standout character in this for me. You may not agree with her moral choices, but there is something tragically regal about the way she has taken on the burden of responsibility for her subjects, in a way parallelling how the Star Whale carries the city.

While I absolutely loathe the Elizabeth I running gag, I do like the way that the Doctor and the Royal Family have a history, and the the idea that they are very aware of who he is and what he does.

Liz10

TEHANI:
The one liners zing in this episode! Some of my favourites:

“Help us, Doctor, you’re our only hope.”
–Liz 10.
How very Star Wars!

“It’s always a big day tomorrow. We’ve got a time machine. I skip the little ones.”
–The Doctor

TANSY:
I can’t go past “I’m the bloody queen.”

Oh and if like David and Tehani you didn’t watch these episodes via DVD, do go hunting for the extra scenes from this season–- one of them is a prelude to Amy floating in space and it’s wonderful, adding more warmth to the Eleven-Amy friendship. The other comes immediately after “Flesh and Stone” so don’t watch it quite yet…

“Victory of the Daleks”
Season five, episode three
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan

Victory of the DaleksTEHANI:
The Nazi = Dalek parallel is once again at the forefront of this episode. And oh look! Yet more Daleks (they’re never really gone…). It’s a Gatiss-penned episode, and I am starting to think that he is big on spectacle, but not so much on the plot/making of sense thing – just me?

TANSY:
This is one that desperately needed another 5-10 minutes, I think, there are so many good scenes in it, but it doesn’t quite hang together. New Who is *so* fast-paced these days, and Moffat Who seems to be even faster and snappier and more packed with words than RTD Who – there are times when it just tries to push too much in.

Having said that there is a lot to like about this episode that I think often gets forgotten in a sea of fannish loathing. I like all the Churchill-in-the-bunker stuff, especially the odd friendship between Churchill and the Doctor which has obviously been going on for some time (he calls him dear!), and I will forgive a lot for that jammy dodger scene.

DAVID:
I am starting to think that I am too easily pleased! I rather liked this episode, I thought it provided a nice little twist on the whole Nazi/Dalek comparisons, and oh boy did it have a nice bit of spectacle! It doesn’t get much more exciting that Spitfires in space attacking a Dalek spaceship. If this had been a movie that alone would have been worth the price of admission.

Never have so many...

TEHANI:
Is this the first time we see Moffat use the Doctor (and Amy) to defeat evil with the power of love?

TANSY:
Yes, yes it is. If you don’t count “The Beast Below” which is more the ability to defeat evil with the power of spotting that a monster is capable of love and kindness…

DAVID:
While it was a bit of stretch to have the bomb disarmed by Bracewell’s belief in his humanity, I found that sequence quite moving and a perfect contrast to the inhumanity of the Daleks.

TANSY:
I really like Bracewell, and how much humanity is packed into his few scenes. We haven’t had enough of the Doctor playing with mad scientists in recent years and I love the way that Bracewell is so very certain that he created the “Ironsides.”

Dalek BlueprintTEHANI:
I’m not sure what “conventional fan wisdom” says, but I’m not a fan of the new Dalek design – they just don’t seem scary in those bright colours!

TANSY:
Ohhh sweetie, fandom hated those Daleks with a fiery vengeance. I didn’t mind the colours myself, but detested the new shape. Even the OPERATORS hated them – you’d think that they would give them more room, but instead they just provided more bulk to move around, so they were less useful.

Moffat said afterwards that the whole ‘new paradigm’ was the pitch he used to get the BBC to let them build more Dalek models, because they had hardly any left by the time he took over. A reboot meant lots of publicity, lots of merchandise (see how often the new Daleks are placed so you can’t see the fact that they have the wrong silhouette from side on) and the kids mostly liked them.

However, and I am TOTALLY going to spoil David here, because I don’t want him to suffer as we did, the new Daleks never looked as bad again as they did in this one. And the old Daleks never went away – from now on we’ll always get a fun cocktail of both.

DAVID:
They were a bit garish! I can’t say I was a big fan of them, either.

Game piece

TANSY:
I do, however, like the whole concept of the Ironside Daleks, and of Churchill inadvertently signing up the Daleks to help him fight Nazis. The plot is actually really clever, and leads to the brilliant scene of Matt Smith’s Doctor trying to get the humble tea-serving Ironside to admit it’s an evil war machine. Unfortunately, and this is where the story lets it down, he succeeds. A longer and more involved plot would have allowed this tension to be drawn out a bit, especially with the benefit of a companion who can’t corroborate the Doctor’s insistence that the Daleks are not to be trusted.

However, having said that, I just described the plot of “The Power of the Daleks”, the very first Patrick Troughton story. And, well, “Dalek” a bit, too.

You have to admit, though, there is not much in the world that is more awesome than a Dalek carrying a teatray.

Victory of the Daleks

DAVID
I liked how they weaved in some real quotes from Churchill to give some credence to the idea that he would have seized upon any weapon to defeat the Nazis. It is easy to forget how desperate Britain’s position was at that point in the war, and there is no doubt Churchill would have felt an incredible temptation to use the Dalek technology, and it makes the Doctor’s decision to destroy it all completely justified.

This is where the whole Dalek/Nazi thing can get a little dicey though. The writers need to communicate that in the Doctor Who universe the Daleks are in fact worse than the Nazis, as hard as that is to get the mind around. But, how do you do that without minimising an unspeakably terrible part of our real history and using that suffering as a plot device? I can definitely understand why some people are quite uncomfortable with the Nazi/Dalek parallels.

TANSY:
That’s a really good point, and I think it’s too complex an idea to deal with sensitively in this story – we don’t actually see Daleks do much that’s bad, so it’s all Doctorly rhetoric as far as Amy and the other humans are concerned, and very easy to come off as trite. I suspect Daleks are best kept away from humanity for a while and given the huge drawcard of them as characters it would be nice to see them saved for some massive futuristic space battles instead of serving to remind us yet again of what used to be a subtle and discreet metaphor for the ultimate evil.

Having said that, an important detail we could easily miss: Amy does not know what a Dalek is. Despite the fact that humans from her era would have seen them semi-regularly on the evening news (and indeed Blue Peter). What could this mean?

DAVID:
I can already see them building towards a season finale, throwing around clues like we saw with all the Bad Wolf foreshadowing. This is going to be fun!

Crack of Doom?Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501

A Conversational Journey through New Who – The Eleventh Hour S05E01

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“The Eleventh Hour” – S5E01
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Amelia Pond – Caitlin Blackwood
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill

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DAVID:
After four seasons of reviews, I finally got to encounter Eleven!  I’ve tried to stay clear of spoilers, but people really have talked up Matt Smith and to be honest I expected to be a bit disappointed after having my expectations set so high. Plus, I loved David Tennant, so it was always going to be tough for a new Doctor to measure up. And, this is really petty and irrational, but there is part of me that struggles with the idea of an actor who is younger than me playing the Doctor – it just doesn’t seem right!  So, sitting down to watch this I didn’t have high hopes.

But, I am happy to have been comprehensively proved wrong. Not only is this a very strong episode in its own right (Which I am sure will discuss later in the review), it also serves as a wonderful introduction to a new Doctor and a new Companion. I was a bit dubious when I saw the new title sequence, but fortunately it was all uphill from there!

TANSY:
You’re not alone, David! I remember well the waves of fannish skepticism around Matt Smith’s casting, not least because of his age. They lasted until about ten seconds into “The Eleventh Hour,” I believe.

*

TEHANI:
And here I am, back at what was, for me, the beginning. “The Eleventh Hour” was where I started – I wanted to watch the Neil Gaiman episode (season six) but thought it would be a bit silly trying to jump on there. So I decided to start with the beginning of Matt Smith’s era, and this episode. It sure worked its magic on me, because as you know, I’m now a massive fangirl! I’ve seen this ep a bunch of times now, and it’s still shiny and lovely – adore Matt Smith, adore Amelia, and Amy and Rory aren’t bad either!

TANSY:
Oh I didn’t know that, I thought you watched the Neil Gaiman episode first! I think this is one of the best jumping on points of the show, up there with “Spearhead From Space” and “Rose”.

TEHANI:
I can delay gratification, see! 🙂 I agree, I think it’s a great starting point for people wanting to test the waters (very hookable indeed – I’m living proof!).

DAVID:
In the past, I’ve found that a lot of the attempts at humour have seem a bit forced, or gone too far towards slapstick and fat jokes, but there are some genuine laugh out loud moments in this episode. In fact, the whole thing is sparkling, lots of great dialogue and action. I missed the writer’s name at the start but I wasn’t surprised to discover it was Moffatt, it had him all over it.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence at the start. Caitlin Blackwood is the perfect foil for the madness of Matt Smith, and the way she doesn’t even blink an eye at his outrageous behaviour is a delight. The food scene is hilarious (though him not liking bacon nearly pushed the suspension of disbelief too hard!), but there is just the right mix of seriousness. His quote about how her being scared of the crack in the wall must mean it was something *really* scary was a perfect illustration of the perceptive mind beneath the clown and said volumes about both his character, and hers. Great writing.

TANSY:
“The Eleventh Hour” is one of my favourite stories of all time – I think one of the best opening stories for a Doctor and a companion ever. And after having to nudge and coax my kids for some of the later Tennant seasons, I didn’t have to nag them at all to put on this DVD. Little Jemima thinks the earth orbits around Amy Pond, and while Raeli is more of a Ten/Rose girl, she has a soft spot for any story with Young Amelia.

I agree with you David that the opening scene with Caitlin Blackwood (who by the way is the cousin of Karen Gillan, her older counterpart) is brilliant, setting up the Doctor as funny and serious and odd and all the good Doctor things. I adored Tennant before he got the part and so was easily won by him, and Christopher Eccleston had me at “Run,” but I love how much of this story and the first ten minutes in particular is about the Doctor as a person, how alien and how human he is.

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TEHANI:
Had no idea she’s Karen’s cousin! That’s cool 🙂

TANSY:
My heart breaks for Amelia, every single time she sits on that suitcase.

TEHANI:
Every single time. Right there with ya.

It’s hard to judge how much of what makes this story work so well is Moffatt’s writing and how much is Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor. He inhabits the role so instantly, it’s impossible not to immediately go along for the ride. Watching it this time, I was interested to see how many Tennant-esque tics he uses – of course, as far as I was concerned when I FIRST watched it, that was just Matt Smith’s Doctor, but now I can see how much he riffed off Tennant. But I think it’s a clever use of the style, just enough to remind long time viewers that yes, he IS the same character, and yes we WILL learn to adore him too!

doctor-who-cinema

TANSY:
I also feel like the look of the show has leaped ahead somehow – there is some gorgeous, arty direction in this story, particularly the use of reds and TARDIS-blue in the first few scenes, but somehow everything just looks shinier. It’s impressive that Murray Gold, now pretty much the only ‘name’ member of the production crew who has been there since “Rose” in 2005, manages to make the music sound completely different to anything we’ve had in the show so far. A whole new palette for a whole new Doctor…

DAVID:
The special effects are excellent throughout this episode, especially the sequence at the start with the TARDIS flying over the city and the Doctor hanging on for dear life. While the SFX at the start of the new run were a radical change from the Classic series, this is another leap again and just shows how times have changed and how accessible good effects now are.

TEHANI:
I loved the music in this episode! There have been episodes where the score jars or even overwhelms the story, but it’s perfect in this.

I’m pretty fond of the steampunkish aesthetic of the newly regenerated TARDIS – heavens, I’m turning into one of those fans who has OPINIONS on the TARDIS console!

TANSY:
This one is my favourite of the New Who TARDIS console rooms. I like the tactile nature of it, and the way Smith interacts with the bits. There’s a coziness to this one that I feel is more ‘classic’ than the more grand, austere 9-10 console. Also the orange just makes me think about Axons.

It looks pretty slick on the outside now too! The old girl has had a revamp inside and out.

DAVID:
While I quite like the look of the TARDIS in this episode, I have to admit that I still feel the occasional yearning for the classic white design!

tardis_interior_above_v2_35

TANSY:
We also get some interesting additions to TARDIS canon in this one – it’s the first time we ‘see’ and hear about the details of the internal decor being rearranged, and it’s fascinating the way that this is tied into the Doctor’s trauma and his regeneration. In the past, changes were mostly not mentioned at all, or in the case of say The Five Doctors, discreetly referred to after the fact.

The idea that the TARDIS can actually grow/make a sonic screwdriver is pretty fascinating, and gives a whole new perspective to that time the Doctor gave K9 away to Leela and then found himself a new ready made duplicate in the cupboard!

So, grown up Amy. What do you think of her in her first outing?

TEHANI:
I had no idea how to take Amy when I first watched this and it took me a while to warm up to her. This time around, I really really liked her from the word go. And interestingly, it’s not just because I now have a history with her. This time, I really noticed how hurt she had been by the Doctor’s absence, and how much that had affected her entire life. And even though she still jumped at each opportunity to go travelling with him, I think this time I saw her really thinking about what she was leaving behind when she eventually left. Although I think she was a bit blase about his assurances of being back by the next day – given his track record, it seemed fairly naive!

DAVID:
I liked her from the moment she hit him with the cricket bat! My first impressions are really positive, and I am looking forward to seeing exactly what sort of companion she becomes. I always find it interesting when the show explores the ramifications of the Doctor’s actions beyond the end of an episode, as in the “Face of Evil”. One of the strengths of New Who has been examining the impact an encounter with the Doctor has one people, and how ex Companions often struggle to go on with their life. We get the Reader’s Digest version here, in the space of fifteen minutes (or less!) it becomes pretty obvious how much that brief encounter with the Doctor has shaped Amelia’s whole life. Not just in the drawings, but in the way she seems unsettled and distrustful. The Doctor can be pretty cavalier about these things, but to his credit he seems to realise exactly how much he has hurt her.

The revelation that she is not a real police officer was played pretty well, I thought, and added an interesting layer to her character, without being too creepy. As we discover her job, it only adds to the sense of someone who is dissatisfied with her life and doesn’t quite know what she is meant to be. I say that not because of the nature of her job, but her obvious embarrassment about it.

Happily, she seems like she is going to be much more than a damsel in distress, and certainly holds her own in the witty banter stakes. It will be interesting to see what the dynamic is going to be like over the course of the season. I have to admit to being a little concerned about what is going to happen with her wedding, and poor Rory!

TEHANI:
Oh, you’re in for SUCH a ride…!

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DAVID:
So, on to the rest of the episode! Another example of Moffat’s unerring ability to build tension, subtly and effortlessly. From the crack in the wall to the revelation of the prison, there is a sense of something not right about the house. Each oddity, like the unnoticeable door (“dim”, as Stephen King would put it) builds the unease. And, Moffat certainly has a knack for creating creepy monsters! It wasn’t so much the real form of Prisoner Zero that got to me, it was serviceable but not exceptional. It was the “human” form, or its disguise, that really disturbed me. The way the talking was out of sync with the mouths, and the juxtaposition of human features with alien was something that stayed with me long after the episode.

TEHANI:
Moffat’s got the whole “take something ordinary and make it super scary” thing down…

TANSY:
I like the way that the Prisoner Zero snake thing and the whole stressful countdown is used every step of the way to show us what kind of people Amy and the Doctor are, building their characters. We learn that Amy is bold and reckless and untrusting – and also that she stands up for herself. I adore the bit where she shuts his tie in the car door, and the poor old gentleman asks her so politely for his car back. You get the impression she has been terrorising this village since she was eight.

TEHANI:
I love love LOVED the Mrs Angelo and Jeff byplay – the way the Doctor just bursts into the house and expects them to believe everything he says, and do the impossible. And it’s gorgeous that they all recognise him as Amy’s “raggedy man” – he really did leave a mark on her!

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TANSY:
I also like the fact that everyone around Amy has heard of the Doctor because she’s been banging on about him since she was a child – they’ve all seen the artwork and heard the stories. One of my favourite Rory lines of all time is when he says ‘you made me dress up as him!’ It does suggest that while Amy has this massive loss in her life – the empty hole left by her absent parents and so on – she has had a village community around her who cares and pays attention. It’s a nice balance against the idea that she spent her whole childhood biting psychiatrists and suffering her aunt.

DAVID:
Yes, I loved the real sense of exasperated affection that the village had for Amy. You could tell that they had adopted her as their own daughter, albeit a rather wayward one. And the way that they recognised the Doctor and didn’t even bat an eyelid, but just treated it as somehting that had only been a matter of time and was straightway filed under Amy shenanigans – brilliant!

TEHANI:
On this rewatch, Rory was just brilliant from the first. On my original viewing, I didn’t realise he would be important – with the backward looking perspective, I love how much of his character is revealed in this episode. He’s introverted and shy, but clearly devoted to Amy, actually rather good at his job, and funny as all get out.

TANSY:
All true but at the same time – he plays Rory so YOUNG which is lovely because it gives him lots of space to grow into.

DAVID:
I can already see that Rory is going to be one of the characters you root for and hope has a happy ending. He seemed so devoted to Amy and willing to put up with anything to be close to her, even if it means playing second fiddle to what he must have deep down thought was an imaginary friend. I do worry though that it won’t be an easy road for him; it’s a bit of trope, the steady dependable guy who is around all the time competing with the flashy, worldly guy who ducks in and out of someone’s life and you can see that someone can easily get hurt here.

While that is a little Bridget Jones’ Diary, Rory reminded me more than anything of Tim in the British version of the Office (more so than Jim in the US version), with the whole hangdog resignation about him.

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TEHANI:
The shooing off the aliens scene is awesome. For me, coming new to the series with this episode, I reckon this is what really hooked me. I had no idea what had gone before, in either Classic or New Who, but that speech by Eleven, couple with the lovely flash through of all the Doctors, well, I was in.

TANSY:
Well I have all that baggage going for me! But it’s SUCH a powerful scene, with the music and the images, and him choosing his costume all at once. Matt Smith is going to (spoilers, sorry David) give a LOT of great speeches during his tenure, with appropriate pomp and ceremony, but it’s hard to go past the significance of this one.

DAVID:
The rooftop scene is amazing, and was the perfect contrast to the hyperactive, funny Doctor of earlier in the episode. It is vitally important that we get to see both sides of his character, and he reminds me of Seven in particular in the way he can be an amicable clown, but can turn on the big bad Doctor who the monsters are afraid of when the situation calls for it. Quite often throughout the show we see the Doctor through the viewpoint of humans, and he is taken just a very clever, but otherwise human, character. I do enjoy the moments we see that he is, in fact, a player on a cosmic scale and that the Earth is very lucky indeed that he has a peculiar fondness for it.

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TANSY:
Comparing him to previous Doctors – Christopher Eccleston quite literally hit the ground running, while David Tennant spent half his first episode asleep, building up to a reveal of what kind of Doctor he would be in the last moments of The Christmas Invasion (and, it could be argued, that reveal wasn’t entirely accurate). I think Matt Smith splits the difference here, giving us a Doctor who is very active even before he properly finds his feet.

I can’t criticise this story. It’s honestly one of my most beloved pieces of Doctor Who of all time. And oh, if you spend any amount of time around kid Doctor Who fans, the whole fish fingers and custard thing has become so RIDICULOUSLY iconic that it’s giving Tom Baker’s scarf and jelly babies a run for their money.

TEHANI:
There’s ain’t nothing to criticise. It was my gateway drug and I’m still hooked!

DAVID:
Like some of Moffat’s other work, this would be the perfect episode to show someone with no familiarity with Doctor Who whatsoever. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s creepy – and had some beautiful emotional moments. It’s hard to believe that the season can get any better, but if it maintains this level of quality then I can’t wait!

TANSY:
For me, this season isn’t just about the new shiny direction that the show had taken (in all senses of the word) but also it marks the time that I started becoming aware of trock (Time Lord Rock!) and the Ood Cast, a brilliant podcast (that started their proper song and dance, comedy skits version of themselves with this season) which means that nearly every episode from now on has multiple musical accompaniments in my head.

So here’s a musical number for The Eleventh Hour: Chameleon Circuit’s Still Not Ginger

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time

A Conversational Journey through New Who – End of Time

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

THE END OF TIME

The Doctor: David Tennant
Wilf: Bernard Cribbins
The Master: John Simm
Rassilon: Timothy Dalton
The Woman Who Is Not Confirmed In Any Way As The Doctor’s Mother: Claire Bloom
Donna: Catherine Tate
Rose: Billie Piper
Martha: Freema Agyeman
Mickey: Noel Clarke
Jack Harkness: John Barrowman
Sarah Jane: Elisabeth Sladen

TEHANI:
*sniff* I had been determined not to become a Tennant fangirl, but I admit it, he really won me over, particularly in Season Four, and coming to the end of his run is a bit sad. I mainlined so much of him when I first watched these that I found myself adopting Tennant-esque speech patterns and idiosyncrasies (“What? What?!”), which could be rather embarrassing.

That said, I’m afraid so much of this story leaves me a bit cold after multiple watchings, and some of it REALLY doesn’t make sense! There’s a lot to like about it, but there are some absolutely bizarre elements as well. I don’t think it helps that it has come of the back of some really cinematic episodes in the specials, but feels somehow smaller again – maybe just me?

TANSY:
I agree that very little of this story makes sense, or bears any kind of critical viewing. Having said that, I’m a million times more fond of it than any of the other Specials. I can’t explain why! I think perhaps because it has more emotional resonance than the rest of them put together, and possibly I am still deeply affected by how damn exciting it was to watch the first episode pretty close to live (within 24 hours of it screening!) – so many interesting questions, revelations and set pieces in that first episode, even if OK VERY FEW OF THEM are paid off in any way, or followed up on.

DAVID:
Wow, I can see this is going to be an interesting discussion! I really enjoyed this one, and thought that, with a few exceptions which I am sure we will get to, was very strongly written throughout. And, I personally found it a lot bigger in scope than some of the other specials, and definitely thought it far more satisfying than the last Master appearance – the three part “Utopia/Sounds of Drums/Last of the Time Lords”.

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TANSY:
There are so many individual scenes in this that are delightful Doctor Who, even if it’s all stuck together with duct tape, fairy glitter and damned cheek.

The early scenes on the Ood world, for instance, are mesmerising and weird and full of possibilities … that never actually get paid off. But great scenes. Likewise, the Master’s acolytes and his wife fighting it out as to whether he will return to life, using potions and lipstick – every inch of it is ridiculous, but the performances are great, Lucy Saxon’s in particular.

I don’t have the common fan reaction of “POTIONS?” to this scene, because dude, let’s talk about the Sisterhood of Karn for a minute. Mystical claptrap has been part of Time Lord lore for a long time … though the use of a word so associated now with the Harry Potter Lexicon was a touch mismanaged. I do wonder if fan reaction would have been the same if they had used ‘philtres’ or ‘elixirs’. Meanwhile, I save my exasperation for the ‘she bears his imprint’ line and the lipstick on the tissue, because COME ON.

(Cue Time Crash and the ‘does he still have a beard?’ line that I still can’t quite believe David Tennant said out loud)
Continue reading

A Conversational Journey through New Who – The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead /The Waters of Mars (2010)

The Doctor: David Tennant
The Next Doctor: David Morrissey
Rosita: Velile Tshabalala
Miss Hartigan: Dervla Kirwan
Lady Christina de Souza: Michelle Ryan
Adelaide Brooke: Lindsey Duncan

TEHANI:
Well, David, we’re on the final countdown with David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. For me, getting to these episodes was bittersweet, as I had already watched all Matt Smith’s episodes and had then gone back to start with Eccleston and work my way forward to where I started. After the lovely get together of all the gang in the last two episodes of Season Four proper, and then the hideous ending that poor Donna got, these specials are a really interesting change of pace, as the Doctor flits about on his own, essentially. The way it affects him, his decision making, his self-image, all that stuff, is what makes these stand-alone episodes wholly discussion-worthy!

In some ways, having just finished watching the last episode of Season 7, I have to suggest (to Tansy, cover your eyes David!) that these specials are almost the forerunner, stylistically, to the latest season – very much episodic by nature, grand scale, almost movie-like in presentation. What do you think?

TANSY:
In presentation yes there’s a similarity, though I was not very impressed with the year of specials at the time – after four years of regular, reliable Doctor Who, it was gutting to wait so long between episodes, and for several of them (I’m looking at “Planet of the Dead” in particular) to be so disappointingly slight. I think Series 7 achieved the movie event style effect far better, probably because I like the writing and characters better.

Without a regular character (and Donna in particular) to ground him, it felt like the Tenth Doctor was far more of a distant character, moving further away from us. Maybe not a bad thing because we had to think about weaning ourselves off him?

DAVID:
He seemed to be drifting, like he had lost whatever anchor it was that held him close to humanity.

TEHANI:
Do you think that was deliberate? They had to know they were working up to Tennant leaving, after all?

TANSY:
Oh, they knew. It had been announced he was leaving well before “The Next Doctor,” and I think Matt Smith was introduced to the nation (in an actual TV special) shortly after that. In a recent Verity we described it as being like an awkward, dragged-out break up where a couple split, but keep living together until the lease on their house runs out.

TEHANI:
We start out with “The Next Doctor”, the title of which I can only imagine sent the fans into spasms at the time! Actually the Christmas special that year, I have to say I absolutely loved it! I loved that the villain was a hard as nails woman, absolutely a product of the time but not afraid to take an opportunity when she saw it. I ADORED the steampunk-ish elements of the story. I was completely enamoured with David Morrissey’s “Doctor”, and the story that went along with that. And I’m not a huge Cybermen fan, but I really did like this story.

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TANSY:
“The Next Doctor” a style over substance kind of story for me – like most of the specials. Oh so pretty, but not a huge amount to it.

TEHANI:
Pretty matters!

TANSY:
I’m not sure anyone really bought that David Morrissey was really going to be one of our Doctors but it was fascinating to speculate on who the hell he really was – a very clever central idea. A little disappointing he didn’t turn out to be the Meddling Monk in disguise, though.

I am a sucker for ‘classic Doctor Who monsters in historical storylines’, so enjoyed that aspect. And I did very much like the way that the episode kicked at the mythology of the show – looking at what makes the Doctor the Doctor by creating another one and having our Doctor pretend to be his companion. David Morrissey felt very convincing as a Doctor – I think his “Victorian gent with panache” interpretation of the role is the sort of thing we expected when the show first came back in 2005 (it also reflects the style choices made around Paul McGann’s Doctor) and because of Blackpool, Morrissey was an actor much speculated as a front runner for the role.

The two Davids worked brilliantly together – enough to make me sad that the show never really gave the ‘male companion’ thing a chance for more than a few episodes at a time … during the RTD era, anyway!

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TEHANI:
What didn’t work for me? I wasn’t really sold on Rosita – I think I appreciated what they tried to do with her, but sadly, she just didn’t get fleshed out enough to do the character justice. And the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-style robot creature stomping across the landscape made me laugh, rather than perhaps a more appropriate reaction!

TANSY:
Well, it is a Christmas special. Important to remember these are all designed to be watched after everyone’s been eating and drinking too much all day. Speaking of which, the big gosh wow moment was the time stamp which showed us images of all the previous Doctors – we’d only seen them physically represented on screen in the sketches in The Journal of Impossible Things back in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, so this was a big deal.

DAVID:
It’s funny you mention about it being a Christmas special, because for the first ten minutes or so I couldn’t get my head around this episode, then I realised that it was *meant* to be a little over the top and something clicked. I enjoyed it much more after that!

I was trying to work out why David Morrissey looked so familiar, and then I realised he is the Governor from The Walking Dead! That was a surreal moment. But, I really enjoyed his character, and I’d be happy if they brought him back to play Twelve – Astra style (though I am aware that won’t happen)! Rosita was an excellent Companion, and I enjoyed their dynamic. It was also interesting seeing the Doctor get to see what things must look from the outside.

TANSY:
Oh and Dervla Kirwan is brilliant in this, especially the scene with The Red Dress, but it’s a shame her character makes no sense at all. Almost everything she says is so bizarrely scripted, it’s hard to believe that the same person wrote those lovely Doctor-Doctor scenes.

TEHANI:
Oh yes, I liked her a lot!

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DAVID:
I agree that Hartigan made absolutely no sense as a character. We don’t get any real sense of what her motivations are, what she wants, she could have been replaced by any stock villain with no impact on the episode at all (other than losing a brilliant actor). I assume that she was trying break free of a patriarchal society, but that was barely realised. They could have done so much more with her but she left me cold.

I liked the steampunk vibe of this episode, too. But, one area where they shouldn’t have gone that way was with the giant robot. It looked pretty awesome, but didn’t really fit in with the Cyberman style. Speaking of the Cybermen, I take it these were the “real” Cybermen, not the Earth 2 version? I liked the transparent brain case, a very nice touch. And, the Cybershades were a good addition, too.

TANSY:
I think they’re actually Earth 2 Cybermen because they have the Cybus logo. And the Doctor witters on at one point about them falling through a crack in the universes. So no real ones yet, sorry. Hang in there! Also, the transparent brain case looks awesome in not-Lego form. Raeli has one.

DAVID:
*sigh* Oh well, I will keep waiting. Though, was that a semi-spoiler, Tansy?!

TANSY:
Just because I said ‘yet’ doesn’t mean we’re not still waiting! You know there hasn’t been another Cyberman story since, right?

(Phew, I think I got away with that one)

TEHANI:
This “don’t spoil David” thing is getting harder! Hurry up and catch up!

DAVID:
One of the things I have found interesting is the legitimisation of the Eighth Doctor. For a while I got the feeling people were trying to forget the movie ever happened, but with the Eighth Doctor Adventures, he is definitely well embedded in canon. Showing him here, amongst all the others, reinforces that. And, how many memories did the parade of Doctors Past that bring back? Though, I was hoping they might do a Brain of Morbius and show some future incarnations!

TANSY:
The faces in Brain of Morbius are NOT future incarnations, they are Morbius’ other selves, right? (at least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) It would be kind of hilarious if, in ten years time, episodes like this were re-edited, Lucas-style, to include future faces of the Doctor. Can you imagine the fan explosions if that happened?

TEHANI:
I have no idea what the two of you are talking about. So I’ll move on…

I’m a bit ambivalent about “Planet of the Dead”. On one hand I absolutely adored capable, confident, slightly criminal Christina and would happily have seen her travel with the Doctor for a while. I also really enjoyed Lee Evans’ performance as Malcolm, and seeing UNIT again. On the other hand, the plot was just a bit slight, for me.

TANSY:
I seriously hated Christina, which is so rare for me with a companion or companion type. It started out as mild dislike but honestly it gets worse every time I watch this one. The whole ‘cat-burglar with a heart’ thing is such an old-fashioned style of character type and we learn so little about her to move her beyond the stereotype. The posh accent and cavalier attitude towards everyone around her doesn’t do her any favours. I honestly don’t see why she earned her happy ending, and would have thought much better of the Doctor if he had let her be arrested for her crimes (COS CRIMES) and then met her when she emerged from prison years later, handing over the keys to the flying bus then.

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Planet of the Dead 60s style – http://www.colinbrockhurst.co.uk/

TEHANI:
I know you’re right, morally and logically (and actually, I really wish we DID know more about her and her life and journey, which is kind of why I would watch more of her) … but I still loved her 🙂

TANSY:
Back in 1989 the plan was for the next post-Ace character to be a posh catburglar girl, with the production crew wanting someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Julia Sawahla to play her. So the idea has been around for a very long time … but I don’t think it works in the 21st century. Maybe if they’d set the story in the 1960s?

DAVID:
They really could have just called her Catwoman, couldn’t they? But, they did have great chemistry! My favourite “companion” in this was actually Malcolm! I thought he was hilarious – very Frank Spencer!

TEHANI:
YES! Frank Spencer, exactly!

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DAVID:
I didn’t mind this episode at all, I liked the idea of creatures that had evolved into predators moving from world to world. We talked earlier about the idea of an ecosystem of time, well this an ecosystem on a interplanetary scale. And, I always enjoy non humanoid, hideous aliens that don’t turn out to be the bad guys.

TANSY:
I will admit that the aliens were quite good in this, and the filming looked spectacular. But it is, sadly, my least favourite Doctor Who story involving a bus.

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TEHANI:
“The Waters of Mars” is the episode which won the Hugo in 2010 (all three of these Specials were nominated), and I think it’s probably well-deserved. The dramatic tension of the plot and excellent performances by all guest actors make it an all around fantastic episode that I continue to enjoy re-watching. That said, the ending MAKES NO SENSE TO ME! Please, someone explain how the heck this could still work?!

TANSY:
The ending of “The Waters of Mars” doesn’t work. It’s ridiculous – an insult of an ending. The ultimate tacked on (it was a last minute script change) gratuitous death because it turns the whole story into one big narrative mess.

TEHANI:
I’M SO GLAD YOU SAID THAT!

TANSY:
And it’s such a shame because otherwise “The Waters of Mars” is a fascinating, well made story. A very well scripted base-under-siege story which looks actively at the Doctor’s responsibility when it comes to meeting famous people in history. The cast is brilliant, especially our own Peter O’Brien (love him, love him always, ever since The Flying Doctors) sporting his Aussie accent loud and proud, and the marvellous Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide Brooke. (does anyone remember when there was a fan theory that the water theme for female companion/characters was significant because River, Brooke, Pond? Hilarious). The scene in which the Doctor tells Adelaide about her granddaughter’s destiny is one of the best bits of Doctor Who of all time – a marvellous Doctory moment.

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DAVID:
What an amazing cast! Peter O’Brien is instantly recognisable, and adds a nice sense of history between him and the Captain, and has that air of capability about him, but the real star here is Lindsay Duncan. What an incredible performance, and what a great character. If we had written the report card after the specials she would have been my pick, by far.

And no, I avoided fan theories like the plague! lol

TANSY:
The situation where the Doctor has to LET people die because it’s a famous point in history, and then he decides to save them anyway … that’s such a perfect Doctor Who set up. Seeing the Doctor walk away from the base knowing they are all going to die … and then turning back because he’s the Doctor and he has to try and save them anyway. PERFECT DOCTOR WHO.

Likewise, him being drunk on his own power for breaking all the laws of time is a great moment, and should have been the note on which the story ended. It would have led far better into the finale. Adelaide bringing him ‘down to earth’ with her suicide simply spoils the effect as well as making NO SENSE AT ALL. It feels like it was there to hurt the Doctor and the viewers, regardless of what it did to the story.

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If she was going to kill herself to save the future, why on earth have her do it inside the house where her family would find her, thereby affecting the timeline? If they’d shown that her gun dematerialised bodies at least that would work, but they didn’t. And what about the cute kids who ran off hand in hand, what changes have they wrought to the timeline by surviving? The co-writers wrote themselves into a corner and then failed to climb out again. Such a waste of an otherwise excellent production.

TEHANI:
I know! It made no sense, and otherwise, that story was so darn good. I’ve watched this one a bunch of times now, and each time I think, ‘maybe now I’ll figure out how it worked’, and each time I get to the end and go, ‘what the heck?’ I’ll stop trying to understand now!

DAVID:
It’s interesting you say that, because to me it made perfect sense. Even though the Doctor has always played a little fast and loose with the laws of Time, he has always operated within certain boundaries, both voluntarily because it is the right thing to do, and in an involuntary fashion, because Time protects itself and generally acts to bring things reasonably close to how they were meant to be, even if there are slight variations.

The idea of a Doctor who not only doesn’t feel any moral constraints to not go around changing Time, but actually has nothing stopping him from doing so, is a pretty scary one. Logically, where would it stop? I thought the idea of the ending, whether it was executed well or not, is that there are still consequences if you play with Time, even for the Doctor. Whether it was Adelaide showing a greater degree of wisdom of the Doctor and sacrificing herself to do what she saw as the right thing, or Time itself forcing the lines of history back on track, it shows that the Doctor is not God and above every law of the universe – moral or scientific.

TEHANI:
No, see I got that that’s what they were TRYING for, but it still doesn’t make any sense, for the reasons Tansy says above. It’s not the same as dying in an unknown way on a far off planet, not by any stretch…

DAVID:
But, that’s the thing – that’s how she was meant to die, but the Doctor interfered. Adelaide was willing to do what needed to be done, even if the Doctor wasn’t. It may not have been the same, but in the end it had the same effect and the timeline was preserved. However, I may just be giving the writers WAY too much credit!

Of course, there is something problematic about a strong woman character being killed off to motivate the male lead. Isn’t that the definition of fridging?

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TANSY:
Yes it is absolutely. And I do think you’re giving the writers too much credit, David! They evidently intended to do what you suggest, but I think they wasted the opportunity with a dodgy dismount.

This one is the only Doctor Who of the RTD era which I categorically will not let my daughter watch (she has also self-selected not to watch “Blink”). The combination of the horror imagery, the lingering and I think indulgently violent deaths during the evacuation, and then Brooke’s suicide makes the whole thing entirely inappropriate for family viewing as far as I’m concerned. The prosthetics look astounding but they are so creepy! A very adult piece of science fiction, in the end, which feels disappointingly less like Doctor Who than I want it to.

TEHANI:
I think that’s absolutely a fair assessment. And with that, I think we’re ready to move on … to the end of Tennant’s reign as Doctor *sniff*

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

A Conversational Journey through New Who – Season Four Report Card

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

See Tehani’s S4 Report Card and Tansy’s S4 Report Card by following the links! (See our Season One Report Cards here, our Season Two Report Cards here, and our Season Three Report Cards here)

SEASON FOUR REPORT CARD – David

The Doctor: David Tennant

In this season we see David Tennant owning this role, you can tell that he has made it his own and is completely comfortable. Probably my favourite Doctor since Tom Baker, and the most charismatic. Though, as I mentioned, I think that, just like Four, Tennant’s charisma means that the writers get away with some things that perhaps they shouldn’t have, and that we forgive the Doctor for some not so nice behaviour.

It is a real pleasure watching Tennant play the Doctor, and I am struggling with the idea that his time is running out.

season-4--voyage-of-the-damned-doctor-who-620205_500_375

The Companions:

Donna Noble: Catherine Tate

Sigh. I love Donna. Catherine Tate’s comedic gifts were put to such good use, and the chemistry and banter between her and Tennant was amazing. But, she also showed herself to be just as talented when it came to drama, and provided some of the season’s most moving moments. For example, the whole arc of her and her “family” in “Silence in Library/Forest of the Dead” was deeply moving.

But, I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the way things ended. I can’t think of anything crueller in the show’s history. Jamie and Zoe may have had their memories wiped, but not like that. I am still angry writing about it now.

However, it doesn’t change the fact that Donna was a wonderful companion, and exactly what the Doctor, and the show, needed.

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Recurring Characters:

Martha Jones: Freema Agyeman

Martha was wonderful in this. All of the companions so far, she has dealt with leaving the Doctor the best, and it was great to see how she has developed and moved on since.

Rose Tyler: Billie Piper

I liked the proactive Rose, crossing the Universe to kick butt and take names. It was painful to watch her realise that the Doctor just keeps moving on, though. In other seasons we’ve seen her come to terms with the fact that he has a past (School Reunion), but now she sees that he has a future without her, as well. The webcam scene communicated her struggles with not being the centre of the Doctor’s universe really well, in particular.

Billie Piper was very good, I thought, in conveying all these different facets of Rose’s character, and that last scene was particularly powerful. I’ve never been a big fan of the “romance” but I can handle the resolution that RTD gave us.

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Sarah Jane Smith: Elisabeth Sladen

This was much more the Sarah Jane I wanted to see than at the end of School Reunion! Smart, capable and brave, and most importantly getting on with her life.

But the goodbye scene at the end was almost too much for me, I’m afraid. Very emotional given Elisabeth Sladen is no longer with us.

The boys are back in town: Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) & Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke)

For some reason, I found Jack much less wearing in this – maybe I am building up a tolerance? lol But, the little glimpses I saw of him and his Torchwood family have made me want to watch it even more! I thought he was a lot of fun, and I loved his interactions with Mickey really enjoyable.

As for Mickey, the more I saw of him in his time after leaving the Doctor the more I liked him. I’d love to have had him travel with the Doctor at this point in his life, and without Rose. Would have been fascinating.

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Donna’s family – Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) and Sylvia Noble (Jacqueline King)

Bernard Cribbins added an extra degree of dignity to every scene he was in. I loved how Wilf constantly encouraged Donna to dream of something more, and their bond was quite beautiful.

Jacqueline King put in some wonderful performances throughout the season. It is something to play someone extremely unlikeable in one episode, and then switch to making us actually like her in another! In the last episode she made us believe that Donna might actually have a chance of future happiness because she would have people around her who loved her. Small consolation, but I was desperate for any crumb I could get!

What is your favourite episode of this season?

I personally think this is the strongest season so far, in terms of consistency, anyway. But, for me it has to be “The Stolen Earth”. What more could a fan ask than the Children of Time, Daleks, Davros and Harriet Jones? Aside from the fan service, it was an extremely well written episode and set up a great finale.

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Least favourite episode?

I can’t say that I disliked any of the episodes, so I am going to say “Journey’s End” because of what they did to Donna! But, even that was still a great episode despite not quite living up to the promise of “Stolen Earth”.

Favourite guest performance?

Tough one! There were lots of excellent performances, from Fenella Woolgar as Agatha Christie to Kylie Minogue as Astrid. But, I think the winner has to be Lesley Sharp for a truly astounding performance.

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Describe this season in one word!

Astounding

Grade: A

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
“Turn Left, S04E11”
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S04E1213 – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” – S04E1213

The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Freema Agyeman – Martha Jones
John Barrowman – Jack Harkness
Elisabeth Sladen – Sarah Jane Smith
Noel Clarke – Mickey Smith

TEHANI:
I LOVED these episodes! ALL THE SPECIAL GUESTS MAKES FOR ALL THE HAPPY! Even more happy on the rewatch now that I’ve actually seen Torchwood and some Sarah Jane Adventures! There are problems which we’ll get to, yes indeedy, but OH, I do love the cramming in of everyone!

TANSY:
On rewatching yet again, I have to say that “The Stolen Earth” taken on its own is one of the best individual Doctor Who episodes of all time. There’s so much about it that is clever and good and epic, the bringing in of all those little plot strands for each character, the effects – it just all looks fantastic.

My three year old sat up straight and declared, “DALEKS CAN FLY?” when she saw this yesterday which frankly should not have been a shock to her, but I do think this is one of the best uses of that visual idea – and the shots of the Dalek saucers attacking the Earth are hardcore. These shots remind me of the gorgeous old Dalek comics that first (along with to a lesser extent the Peter Cushing movies) showed us how epic the Daleks could actually be with an excessive budget.

I’m so happy Doctor Who gets to show this stuff on screen now.

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DAVID:
I’ve criticised RTD (Russell T Davies) a fair bit over the course of this review series, and I think justifiably so. But, credit where credit is due, at the back end of this season he really did do a wonderful job, and especially so with the finale. I really, really enjoyed these episodes, and as a fan, rather than a critic, I can’t remember anything that spoke to my inner fanboy and made him squee any more than this. And made him cry, but we will get to that. Yes, there are some bits that are a bit of a stretch, some very convenient resolutions and solutions, but these episodes are some much FUN that you really don’t care. It just grabs you and carries you along for the ride.

It’s things like this that show you that above all else, RTD is a fan. You may not always agree with the choices he makes, or the directions he goes, but you cannot fault the degree to which he cares about the show. His love for it shines through and, to me, covers a multitude of sins. And, every Doctor Who fan owes him a huge debt of gratitude for the fact we have New Who to watch.

Firstly, how wonderful is it to see the “Children of Time”? It was just incredible having all the modern companions together again, and the best versions of them (with two exceptions which I will get to). Mickey is the grown up version, dare I say the man not the boy, Martha is competent and driven, and I really enjoyed having Jackie back (was she the Earth One version or the alternate world one? I’ve lost track!)! It made me want to go watch Torchwood, the brief glimpse of the characters and their dynamics made me think it would be wonderful, and I will definitely be watching the Sarah Jane Adventures now.

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And, how can I forget K9? Good dog!

TANSY:
She is real Jackie but now living with Alter-Pete in Alter-Earth (we should totally call it CyberEarth or maybe PostCyberEarth). I love that all of the characters get their little moments and that includes Jackie – she doesn’t get a lot during the adventure itself but I enjoy how close she and Mickey are now, like real family, and that gorgeous touch right at the end where she tells the Doctor with a straight face that she named her baby after him.

DAVID:
For me, Captain Jack has been a bit all over the place, when they’ve got him right I’ve loved him, but when they didn’t I found him way too over the top. In this, though, he is spot on and I enjoyed every scene he was in. I especially enjoyed his interactions with Mickey – brilliant! I simply loved this Sarah Jane – she isn’t the one who put her life on hold, she is the one who built her own life after the Doctor, and a good one. RTD redeemed himself here, I feel.

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TANSY:
I agree that this is a more believable Sarah Jane – coming after a whole season of her spin off series where they got to properly establish her, that makes sense – though it did bug me that she kept explaining over and over again that Luke was her son, it felt like a clumsy touch that wasn’t necessary.

TEHANI:
I’ve been watching The Sarah Jane Adventures this past couple of weeks though, and she does it a lot there as well. Trying to establish her as a maternal figure, for some reason?

TANSY:
I got that but it felt like she had to re-explain multiple times, rather than get to say anything else which was annoying since time was tight. We SAW Luke more than once, surely that was enough? Though I did like that it was clear she was differently motivated now – as a mother, she was willing to use more potentially violent threats against Davros.

It does feel a little – defensive about whether he is her real son or not? Which I guess is realistic, and some of her fears about that are explored in the series.

Oh how much did I LOVE that Davros remembered Sarah Jane from back in “Genesis of the Daleks”, and her terrified reactions to the Daleks and him? Excellent that she was able to be so visibly scared of them, but was cool and calm under all the other circumstances.

Back to more fun stuff, the meeting scene between most of the companions over Skype was pretty awesome, especially Jack and Sarah’s reactions to each other, and the scene in which Rose hangs out at Wilf and Sylvia’s place, miserable that she can’t join the party.

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TEHANI:
Rose is hilarious in that scene! How she gets all sulky and like, “I did that,” and “Who is SHE?”

TANSY:
Yeah, after Martha having to be pouty about Rose I got a surprising amount of enjoyment from Rose getting jealous too. Possibly it worked best because Martha is now So Over the Doctor. I love love LOVE that Martha’s reaction to Rose’s return is entirely lacking in jealousy – she’s genuinely delighted for her friend to have her back. It not only reminds us of her lack of jealousy over Donna, but was a nice subtle apology for the mistakes the writers made in Season 3, I think.

DAVID:
While overall I thought Rose and Donna were excellent as well, I did find Donna’s “I’m not special” a bit tiresome after the tenth time, though I get why they stressed it, and Rose was a little bit too doe eyed. But, they were minor blips in some excellent characterisation, and as I said, this was all the companions at their best. Billie Piper does a great job of communicating how Rose feels about the Doctor, and how she struggles with the idea she is not the first companion in his life, nor the last. One can only wonder how she would have reacted to River Song. As for Catherine Tate, she continues to be magnificent, especially towards the end, which I am sure we will discuss!

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TANSY:
Yeah it’s sad that Donna still feels that way about herself after we saw her acquit herself so brilliantly in “Turn Left” without the Doctor (which – does she remember or not at this point? They implied the memory was drifting away at the end). She has many great moments in this story, from her scenes with the Shadow Proclamation where she helps put the mystery together, to the quiet contemplative bits. I love the serious stuff with her but also the more arch comic scenes where she meets the Handy Doctor in the TARDIS and they totally try to outdo each other.

DAVID:
Harriet. What a great return for this character. It’s not often that someone proves to know better than the Doctor! I thought that, even though it was the Harriet Jones we’ve loved all along with her ID card and all, she brought a lot of dignity and gravitas to her role as the lynchpin of human resistance, and her sacrifice was one of the best in a long line in Doctor Who. As sad as it was to see her go, it truly was not in vain, and very powerful.

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TANSY:
I like that the disturbing storyline about the Doctor bringing Harriet down came full circle, and the way she brings all the companions together and then sacrifices herself is magnificent. And of course, she was right all along. She dies purely so they can bring the Doctor to the Earth to save them – there’s no argument that there should be another way, for the Earth to defend itself without relying on the Doctor to be there.

I think Rose is very much in character and her love for the Doctor has to be as overt as it is here – and it’s likewise in character that the Doctor can’t quite deal with it. That final part where she demands he finish his sentence and he says “Does it need to be said?” That’s the Doctor right there! Squirming out of a commitment.

TEHANI:
What does that show though? That he DID love her (at the time) and moved on? Which, actually, makes sense in terms of how life generally works (and, pretty much, how the Doctor ALWAYS works).

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TANSY:
I think he was over her at that point, but also – it does suggest to me he was never entirely capable of following through his genuine adoration of Rose into something that was romantic – or rather, real life romantic instead of ‘running around holding hands’ romantic.

I think he loved her, but his definition of love is sort of grandiose and theoretical. It strains under the pressure of real life, and the actual human expectations of another person who wants a relationship. So the only time he WAS prepared to tell her he loved her (probably) was seconds before he jumped ship to another universe.

Donna with a Time Lord brain is brilliant and wonderful and I hate that she wasn’t allowed to keep it. I hate her ending. It was such a devastating thing to do to a character who had damn well earned her hero stripes. The fact that he wipes her memory as she begs and pleads with him not to is … hard to accept.

TEHANI:
Horrible. Horrible horrible horrible ending and SO unfair. I know others have said they think it made sense in terms of the logic of the episode but I just think it was wrong. Donna didn’t deserve to lose it all, everything she’d seen, everything she’d done – unfair!

DAVID:
This was actually one of the most upsetting things I have seen on Doctor Who, in most television actually. It seemed unnecessarily cruel on behalf of the writer. It’s like they stripped away everything good that had happened to Donna and all the growth and happiness she had found, and reduced her back to a shallow caricature of herself. It was a bit of a slap in the face. Yeah, life doesn’t have happy endings, we get that, but I would struggle to come up with a crueler possible resolution to the story than that if I was trying! There is no reason why she couldn’t have lost her memories and met that guy from the Library – or even been sent to that virtual reality.Or anything rather than what happened.

Have I made it obvious how angry I was with that?

TANSY:
And I do wonder – especially having read A Writer’s Tale and knowing how long it took RTD to figure out all the details of this ending – if that had to be it for Donna. It feels like her storyline gets sacrificed at the end of this story (HER SEASON) so that Rose can have the happy ending. Why couldn’t Donna have been the one to be put in charge of the slightly sociopathic human Doctor? If you weren’t trying to have a romantic resolution, that would actually make more sense.

TEHANI:
Oh, no, I don’t like that interpretation at all! I’m not one of those people who has a problem with the idea of “sexytimes in the TARDIS” but I really don’t want to think Donna’s ending was sacrificed for the sake of ROMANCE!

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TANSY:
I don’t know if I believe it, but after those great scenes of Donna as the Doctor it’s just sad to me that she’s not the one that gets the positive ending.

Catherine Tate performs her final scenes brilliantly – and Sylvia and Wilf are wonderful in those too. But it’s horrible, horrible. I think the most uncomfortable aspect about this is that every other companion gets that levelling up arc – sure the Doctor might not approve of the fact that most of his friends have got a bit more violent and ruthless since he saw them last (and BTW it’s quite adorable that Davros finds this hilarious), but we see all the companions as more grown up and independent and highly competent/qualified than when they were last in the TARDIS. They each get to improve on themselves, to grow up a bit in the Doctor’s absence, and to come back with even more to offer him as friends and equals. Even Jackie has her life more together than last time he saw her!

But Donna doesn’t get that. She gets the exact opposite of that. And coming so soon after “Turn Left” in which we were promised that without the Doctor she would turn into a hero anyway, it feels like a betrayal of the character that this time around, that isn’t going to happen.

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If they were going to send her back to suburbia I would have much preferred it to be her choice, and to know she was going to do something great with her life – in the way she didn’t quite manage after “Runaway Bride”. And if they hadn’t spent the whole bloody season giving her lines like “I’m going to stay with that man forever” it would have been much easier to give her a great, satisfying ending without lobotomising her.

DAVID:
Yes, while I disagreed with the writing here, the acting – from everyone involved – was absolutely perfect. Wilf was as good as we have come to expect, but Sylvia, in particular, shows us a whole other side and left me with a whole different opinion of this character, especially after her coldness in “Turn Left”.

The scenes with Davros was another example of the respect shown for Classic Who. The idea that the Daleks would settle for nothing less than exterminating every other form of life, and would not feel safe until they had done so, was completely true to form. The Daleks have *always* been completely paranoid. But, where it really shone was how Davros holds up a distorted mirror to the Doctor, and speaks some very uncomfortable truths, not just about what the Doctor has done in the new series, but what he has done in the past.

The Doctor has turned companions into weapons before, as we saw with Ace in “The Curse of Fenric”. And, he has committed genocide on more than one occasion. As fans, we know that he is the “good guy”, that he is different than Davros, but it quite acceptable for Davros make us ask the question, why is he different?

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So, what did everyone think about Dalek Caan? I loved the concept, loved the execution, I thought he was a great addition to the story.

TANSY:
I love several of the choices they made with Caan – particularly the idea of a Dalek prophet who LIES, because that’s a hilarious thing to do with a prophecy story – but also setting up a Dalek to be an actual character in his own right, and a foil to Davros.

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DAVID:
Watching the resolution to the story made me think, and wonder just how much New Who got away with because of David Tennant’s charisma. It is a very wibbly-wobbly solution, almost deus ex machina, but I found myself really not caring because it was just so much fun! Tennant has way of just carrying you along that is truly remarkable, and I think only rivalled by Tom Baker.

TANSY:
I think that’s absolutely true. The Tenth Doctor’s general enthusiasm, energy and adorableness does mean that a lot of things – not only plot holes and script faults, but some quite unpleasant character moments – are swept away under the force of yes, his charisma.

It was part of what made the show so very successful and popular during this era – but also I think a little bit of a poisoned chalice. I know many fans of the show who struggled to deal with the post-Tennant era of the show because they missed him and his presence so much – but of course, there are two sides to every coin and I know many others who didn’t get the hang of New Who UNTIL the Eleventh Doctor came along…

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I don’t always love the Tenth Doctor but I do rather adore David Tennant, and the emotional layers that have become an essential element of the show.This story not only marks the end of Donna’s run as one of my favourite New Who companions, but also the end (for a year, but it felt like longer) of episodic, serial Doctor Who.

For everyone who is depressed by this episode’s ending, I want to share this with you

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I can now not watch that final scene without seeing that gif in my head. Thank you, internet.

TEHANI:
So we’re sad about Donna, and of course, it’s made worse by the fact that now we move into a very interesting period of the Doctor’s life – a companionless one. Allons-y!

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S04E11 – Turn Left

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“Turn Left” – S04E11
The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper

TEHANI:
So here we are at “Turn Left”, the only other Hugo nominated episode from this season, which I think is a bit sad because the Doctor/Donna season is one of my favourites. We just passed “Midnight”, which despite being Donna-lite, is really rather exceptional, I thought. Certainly one of the creepier episodes, with a good hard look at human nature (and, weirdly, it reminds me of how reality tv shows work, when they shove a bunch of strangers into a small space and see what happens). Lesley Sharp as Sky Silvestry is really quite marvellous, doing some incredible dialogue with Tennant. And of course we get a bonus fandom points with Colin Morgan (Merlin) as Jethro and David Troughton (yes, Patrick Troughton’s son!) as Professor Hobbes.

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TANSY:
I think that “Midnight” was definitely worth a nomination, though possibly not at the expense of the two stories picked – what, we couldn’t get our usual three spots for the Hugo Ballot?? I also think it’s RTD writing at his best. It feels like that is the one where he is trying least hard to impress us all with showiness and grandeur, and the small scale of the production combined with bang-up performances and script was really very effective. Seeing Merlin with cool hair is quite personally distressing to me.

DAVID:
It’s definitely a strong ending to the season! Was RTD (Russell T Davies) still the showrunner at this point, or did he have more editorial constraints? “Midnight” was a wonderfully claustrophobic episode, with some excellent performances, though I thought that the speed with which they turned on Sky was a little convenient. I was a little in awe of Lesley Sharp’s performance, that dialogue must have been terribly difficult!

TANSY:
He was still the showrunner – and I’m glad he chose now to remind everyone that he is in fact a kick ass, world class scriptwriter. Sometimes.

TEHANI:
As “Midnight” was Donna-lite, “Turn Left” is Doctor-lite, which I think is really interesting – the same as “Blink” made the Hugo-voters take notice, another fairly Tennant-less episode made the grade here (although unlike “Blink”, it didn’t get the gong that year, losing to Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). But I wonder how much of the vote was for Catherine Tate’s fabulous portrayal of Donna, and how much was for the fact of Rose? I want to hope it was for Donna, but you never know.

TANSY:
I don’t think it’s necessarily the lack of Tennant that made this episode or indeed “Blink” particularly good, but the ones that Hugo nominators tend to notice are often those that break the mould or formula in some way.

Xena is the only other show I watched obsessively that had a similarly small ensemble (two main characters, rotating but no other regular support characters) and therefore had to do Protagonist-Lite episodes, both for Xena and Gabrielle. And while they often had brilliant material together, it was when one of them was gone that the scriptwriters really had to pull out all the stops because so much of their regular toolbox (and the reliable chemistry between the two actors) was missing. I could easily assemble a list of more than a dozen wonderful episodes of Xena which only featured one of the main leads, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that the episodes lacking the Doctor, the companion or both of them tend to be exceptional or at least very memorable.

I do think that it is very possible to tell a story entirely about the Doctor without showing him on screen, and that’s very much what we’re getting here. The story is absolutely a showcase for Catherine Tate, and one in the eye for anyone who thought she couldn’t cut it as a dramatic actress, but it’s also a story of a world without the Doctor, and what that might look like.

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DAVID:
Catherine Tate is simply amazing in this. She is such a natural comedian that I think it can be easy to overlook her dramatic skills, but here she has a chance to show us what she is really made of, and hits it out of the park. The way that RTD explores her family dynamics provides some genuinely moving moments, and gives us a real insight into how her and her mother interact, in particular. Though, Bernard Cribbins is his usual excellent self!

TANSY:
Sylvia is marvellous in this – some great character growth for all of them. And I think it’s really essential to look at this family and see how they cope with horrible, life-changing circumstances without a bloke in his magic box – they’re not fine but they are surviving and all of them pull together. Wilf’s wartime spirit and Sylvia’s slow acceptance of their situation are both conveyed very well and most of all we see how resilient Donna is.

DAVID:
In this Doctor Who version of It’s a Wonderful Life, we get a convincing alternate world and see just how much impact the Doctor has in even that short period of time. I really liked how we see that there are people who still step up to try and save the world, but that the cost is so much higher without the Doctor there. But, as much as we see the importance of the Doctor, it’s even more fascinating to see how important Donna is. Right throughout Doctor Who the companions make much more difference than they realise, they aren’t just hangers on or a support act to the Doctor, and this is a great example of why.

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TEHANI:
Okay, so I know I’m not the best judge of this, but I DO listen when other people discuss this stuff – am I right in thinking that New Who does this FAR better than Classic Who did? The companions are almost always shown to be really important, whether they actively save the day, or are just the moral compass that is there with the Doctor. And I don’t think this was as evident in Classic Who.

TANSY:
While I am an active defender of the companions of Classic Who, it’s true that the narrative of the show rarely gave them the kind of agency we get in New Who – while there were companions who were allowed actual growth and change through their run, you often get the impression that when it happened it was half accidental and half down to the actor in question portraying that despite the scripts. Very few of them got a) consistent, detailed backstory, b) family and friends back home, c) a coherent story arc or d) a leaving story worthy of them, and certainly few of them got more than one or two of those elements.

Even Ace, who was the last proper companion of Classic Who and is often held up as a forerunner to Rose (in all but the romantic aspect) was not given the same ‘protagonist here, coming through’ central role that Billie Piper’s character and her successors had.

Having said all that, one of the best examples of character development and the companions driving the plot comes with Ian and Barbara at the very beginning of the show, so you could argue that New Who is building upon something that was an essential element of the original 1960’s Doctor Who. At least, I would argue that!

RTD’s era of the show certainly pushes the idea that being around the Doctor turns ordinary people into heroes, but “Turn Left” goes one better by showing they can do that without him, too.

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DAVID:
I largely agree with Tansy’s argument here, however I think you can point to a number of examples of how being around the Doctor pushed some of the Classic Companions into far more heroic roles. Romana played a major part in many of her stories, though it could be argued that she developed more in the tie in novels, as did Sarah Jane who, as we know, went off to be the star of her own show. And of course, Adric died saving the Earth (I think he is a vastly underrated companion, and one of the reasons I was disappointed that they didn’t persevere with Adam Mitchell).

Funnily enough, when it comes to one of the characters given the most interesting backstory you can hardly claim that it was intended all along – I am sure that Turlough’s revelations were written on the fly! [Tansy wrote a great article about this.]

But, it was far from the deliberate writing of arcs that we saw in New Who, which probably has as much to do with the changing nature of television as Doctor Who itself. The fact that you have to search for those examples, and that they are far less involved than almost every companion in New Who backs up Tansy’s argument.

The big thing with Classic Who was the secondary character dying a noble death. It was pretty much a given, if you started to like one of the supporting acts or there was a complex, interesting character, their days were numbered and they would likely die in the last ditch effort to foil whatever end of the world event was in progress.

I much preferred this Rose. She has such a great sense of purpose, and helps set up the finale so very well. There is an ominous feel to her appearances, especially when she says “I am so sorry”, always a scary thing to hear in Doctor Who! And the scene at the end with the “Bad Wolf” stuff – spectacular!

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TANSY:
I actually really like Rose’s return in this season too, especially in this episode. The fact that she is there instead of the Doctor to point the way for Donna is pretty exceptional, and I like how tough and competent she is now. She’s all grown up!

It’s also quite nice to see her being awesome even when the Doctor isn’t around – there’s a kind of double theme going on with the various returns of companions in this season, which is that 1) the companions do much of their “levelling up” after parting company with the Doctor and 2) he doesn’t always like what they turn into when he’s not around to influence them. In this case Rose doesn’t meet the Doctor at all, so we don’t have to deal with that second part of it.

TEHANI:
I definitely liked Rose better in this than I did in her actual run. Possibly it’s actually due (in part at least) to an improvement in Billie Piper’s acting *ducks for cover* but I think it’s mostly because she’s a proactive player in the story, and I liked that.

DAVID:
That’s it, isn’t it? These are the companions who have left the nest and gone out on their own, who have grown up. And, like any parent, sometimes the Doctor struggles with the idea that they aren’t his “children” anymore!

TEHANI:
What did we think about the back bug thing? I’m still not sure I completely understand how that one works – do I need to employ hand-wavery?

TANSY:
I loved the concept – not only did the creepy ‘something on your back’ remind me of the Spiders, my favourite Classic Who monster, but I think it’s also quite clever – basically a time parasite that also works as a fairy tale concept? So it allows/forces a person to make a different life choice back in their timeline, and feeds on the resulting energy, which makes it similar to the Weeping Angels, actually.

Donna_and_the_Time_Beetle

DAVID:
I found the parasite very creepy! I remember walking through a web in the dark once and not realising for quite awhile that I now had a passenger in the form of a massive orb spider on my back. So, a bit too close to home. *shudder*

It was probably a bit more effective when we only saw glimpses, but lots of monsters are like that. I do agree, the concept of a time parasite is quite clever. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of time having its own ecosystem and would love to see it explored a bit more. We had the Chronovores in Classic Who, and I am trying to think of a few more examples – I am sure there must be!

TANSY:
There were the Reapers in “Father’s Day” that turned up to ‘sterilise the wound in time’ – but my favourite example of this is the vortisaurs in Big Finish – like time pterodactyls that live in the time vortex! But I agree, this is a great idea that perhaps has a lot more potential to be re-used in the future. The Doctor may be ‘Time’s Champion’ but you can see how anyone with a greater understanding to time might see him as more of a vandal and saboteur…

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TEHANI:
Ooh, and Tansy, MARKETPLACE! That’s what I kept thinking of when the Verity! podcast team were discussing “The Rings of Akhaten” a few weeks ago! (sorry David, no other talking about things you haven’t seen yet!)

TANSY:
Yes, this is the closest thing we get to a space marketplace before that episode we’re not going to discuss – though as I recall it caused a few eyebrows to go up because of the racial stereotyping. On the one hand it’s quite nice to arrive on a planet which isn’t defaulting to white or Anglo culture, on the other hand it does feel a touch like wandering through a pantomime of Aladdin. (we totally went to a small town pantomime of Aladdin the Christmas before last and omg it was DEEPLY uncomfortable, I was squirming as I watched a bunch of white Aussie kids in yellowface making chop suey jokes and all I could think over and over again was “I am so glad the internet is not in this audience”.)

At least they did cast actual Asian actors. So there’s that. And the marketplace is a tiny, discrete bit of this episode, so you can (I think) enjoy the story regardless. The actual performance of Tennant and Tate wandering through the space market is pretty awesome, though it’s not my FAVOURITE market wandering scene in this season which is of course back in “The Fires of Pompeii”.

DAVID:
I am afraid I am going to put my name down in the unimpressed camp here. I remember when I watched it wondering if there was any sort of controversy over it, because I found it very stereotypical. Not so much the market itself, but the scenes inside the tent seemed very heavy handed to me. Not “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” bad, though, but hopefully we are setting a higher bar than that!

TANSY:
Yep sadly ‘slightly less racist than “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”’ is not something anyone would want on their CV.

DAVID:
Overall, though, I think RTD has delivered a stand out episode here, and one that sets us up for a stunning finale…

TEHANI:
I think you’re right – loved the focus on Donna, really enjoyed Rose this time around, and yes, “stunning” (in all its connotations) is one word for what comes next…

Previous Episodes
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S04E0910 – Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

We would like to thank everyone who nominated our “New Who in Conversation” series for the William Atheling Jr Award again this year – it’ was great honour to be on the ballot!

“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” – S04E0910
The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate
River Song – Alex Kingston

TEHANI:

We skip ahead again to the first Hugo nomination for the fourth season (there were only two Doctor Who episodes shortlisted that year – well, three, but this counts as a single nomination). This is interesting to me, as the fourth season – Donna’s season – is definitely one of my favourites. More competition in that year?

The two episodes between our last post and this one were “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. Although “The Doctor’s Daughter” is a bit off in pacing and emotional points for me, I do think it’s a fascinating episode, particularly in hindsight! I think Moffat has well and truly riffed off this episode in recent times, but I can’t say more than that until David catches up! I like that we get a bit more Martha/Donna/Doctor, and watching this again after our recent viewing of “Genesis of the Daleks” made me laugh because it felt like there are a lot of similarities there! Just me?

TANSY:

I think “The Doctor’s Daughter” is a bit of a mess but can’t really pinpoint why – there are so many bits that are individually good, but somehow it never quite reaches cohesion for me. But yes seeing Martha back in the crew is pretty awesome.

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DAVID:

I quite enjoyed “The Doctor’s Daughter”, but I agree – it did have a bit of a “Genesis of the Daleks” feel! I could watch a whole season of Martha/Doctor/Donna, I really could.

TANSY:
Two companions in the TARDIS is the best thing! And it happens so rarely with two women. Martha and Donna together were just plain love. (We almost didn’t need the Doctor!)

TEHANI:

“The Unicorn and the Wasp” is a lot of fun, another historical based on a literary figure (Agatha Christie) – written by the same person as “The Shakespeare Code”! I love that the fact Agatha disappeared for 10 days with no explanation is a REAL THING and could be used by the show like that. Not sure the humour of the episode always worked for me, but it was fun.

TANSY:

I really like that one – especially for the Doctor and Donna comedy team, but also I enjoy Agatha Christie stuff generally and Fenella Woolgar is spectacular in the role. Plus Felicity Kendall in Doctor Who for the first time. The plot resolution is silly but I still have a fondness.

DAVID:

I had to jump on Wikipedia to see whether the disappearance was for real! It’s one of those incredible historical facts that authors love – so many story ideas. I enjoyed this episode a great deal, it was a nice little play on all those British shows I watch with the family. From Miss Marple to Midsomer Murders, it riffed beautifully on the genre, while still managing to add a few little twists. And, David Tennant had way too much fun playing the detective! The byplay between the Doctor and Donna in this is absolutely wonderful, and we see Catherine Tate’s vast comedic talent given room to shine. Just love her when they go to the party!

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TANSY:
I would take Donna time travelling with me any day of the week.

TEHANI:

And now, “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”. Where to start?! RIVER SONG! BIG PLANET LIBRARY! HORRIBLE SCARY SHADOWS!

TANSY:
Everything I say about River Song will be a spoiler for David. I don’t know how to handle this at all.

DAVID:

I could close my eyes? But then an angel might get me…!

I’m quite liking these little intros at the start of episodes. it’s a wonderful setup with the little girl (and what a great performance throughout, I must say). One of the things I personally enjoy when it is done well is the contrast between a mundane, domestic setting and whatever the spec fic element of a story is, and I think here it is particularly effective. It’s a great hook, and the rest of the episode certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Moving on to the episode itself, the first thing I thought was how much I would give to go to a library like that! And, I loved the concept of people not being able to give up paper copies of books, though of course it is a very human-centric view of what books look like (insert gratuitous plug for Ken Liu’s wonderful “The Book Keeping Habits of Select Species” here). It’s a beautiful slow burn of mood setting, as we realise that something is not quite right.

TEHANI:

That library! Right up there with the Beast’s library in the Disney version… I’m a librarian, let me drool!

TANSY:
The lack of people in it not only makes the episodes more affordable, but makes it better in my eyes. One of the more spectacular and clever sets that they have come up with as far as alien landscapes … so far.

library

DAVID:

One of the things I admire so much about Moffat is that he does emotions so well. There are some really moving moments in this episode where he gets the balance just right, though of course that is helped by some excellent performances by the actor. The scene with Miss Evangelista was particularly powerful. He does a great job of making us feel sorry for her to start with, and then the pathos of her death scene really hits hard. You can sense the shame of the other characters, and Donna’s reaction is a masterful piece of acting and writing.

TANSY:
I agree that in this era the Moffat stories are generally the ones that feel most human to me. He’s also very good at creating characters that you get very quickly, though they’re never completely standard archetypes. Miss Evangelista is a great creation – the character who is pretty and dumb and no one likes because of that, and then such a horrible fate – ugh. And her redemption in cyberspace.

TEHANI:

Moffat is a master of taking the ordinary and everyday and mundane and turning it into something to scare the pants off us! Statues, shadows, stuff we can’t talk about yet because David isn’t caught up…

spaceskeleton

DAVID:

Yes, yes – I must catch up! lol

Another moment I found extremely effective was where Doctor Moon asks to speak to Charlotte alone, and tells her that her nightmares are real, and that the world is not. Just the change from his normal manner, and the complete unexpectedness, gave me chills. He was great the whole way through, though. I found it interesting how many times Moffat managed to toy with my expectations, I wasn’t sure whether Moon was bad or a good guy for a quite a while, and my initial dissatisfaction with what I thought was very a stereotypical character in the form of Strackman was turned on its head when we discover he is actually just trying to help his ancestor, a little girl. That’s the sort of thing that turns this from good writing into great writing.

TEHANI:

Rewatching this I had to laugh at Doctor Moon, because he’s one of a few DW actors to show up in Arrow, which has just hit our screens here! They’re poaching all the people…

TANSY:

I am enjoying Arrow as a guilty pleasure – not only does it have Captain Jack and Doctor Moon but a certain Doctor Song is supposed to turn up before the season is out… Cast David Tennant as Green Lantern for Season 2 please! And Billie Piper would make a much better Black Canary than the one currently inhabiting the role…

Cough. There’s so much packed into this story that I often forget about some of the narrative threads and narratives, ie. any scene Alex Kingston isn’t in. But the Doctor Moon stuff is so creepy and effective, where we don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. And, more to the point, we don’t know whether “Cal” is a victim or something scarier.

TEHANI:

The whole created world thing, especially for Donna, just made me so sad! Poor Donna lived a life in there, with a wonderful fellow, and then lost it all. I know it wasn’t REAL, but it was, to her!

DAVID:

Another reason for me to put Arrow on my “to watch” list! Ahem, after I have caught up on New Who, of course.

I felt so sorry for Donna, that was so sad. Tate is magnificent, too, she really makes the emotions so convincing. That moment where she promises never to close her eyes, and then the children are gone … sigh. And, the whole love story with her husband, and then losing him and the moment he is on the teleporter made get a little sniffly. I really hope that she finds him again.

TANSY:

It’s a tragic story, though to add a controversial note I might add – how much did that picture perfect romance/family actually feel like Donna? It’s certainly not anything like the future she is imagining for herself over the rest of the season when she tells the Doctor she plans to stay with him forever (NEVER SAY THIS, COMPANIONS).

TEHANI:

Okay, fair call – though in light of what comes later… Hard to say!

TANSY:

But I want to ask David a question: what do you think about River Song? Had you been spoiled about her before you reached this point? I remember when this story first came out it started all kinds of discussions – many fans resented her smugness for knowing more about some things than the Doctor. And others (like me) were desperate to see her back and started counting down the episodes to come with alarm, trying to figure out if a return trip could be scheduled in before David Tennant left the role…

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DAVID:

I’ve done a reasonably good job of avoiding spoilers so far, though there are some things you just can’t miss. For example, I know there are some people called the Ponds coming up and I knew that there would be angels that you should avoid blinking around, even if I didn’t know why! Your blog is a dangerous place, incidentally!

TEHANI:

But now you know why we often say, “Spoilers, sweetie”!!

DAVID:

You’ve both been very good at not spoiling me!

So, I had heard the name River Song before, but I had managed to avert my eyes. I think I have made it pretty clear I am a little conservative about Doctor Who and relationships, but I have to say that I much preferred his dynamic with River Song than, for example, Rose. There was a much greater sense of them being on a reasonably equal footing in their relationship (even though the Doctor didn’t know who she was!) and the idea of her being from the Doctor’s future was quite compelling. They’ve touch on the idea of the Doctor’s future impacting his past a little before (“Battlefield” being an example that springs to mind), but not to this degree, but it does make sense. I’m looking forward to seeing more of River Song, she seems like a great character. She’s intelligent, capable and completely unawed by the Doctor, which I find much more enjoyable to watch.

TEHANI:

OOH! Maybe we’ll get a River/Ten interaction in the anniversary episode!

TANSY:

Could happen.

s4_08_river-song

Previous Episodes
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0910

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S04E05E06 – The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

We would like to thank everyone who nominated our “New Who in Conversation” series for the William Atheling Jr Award again this year – it’s a great honour to be on the ballot! Voting for the annual Ditmar Awards (which the Atheling is included in) is open to all members of  Craftinomicon (2012 Natcon – Melbourne) and Conflux 9 (2013 Natcon – Canberra), and can be done online.

“The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky” – S04E0506
The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate

TEHANI:

Righto, so we’ve skipped over “The Fires of Pompeii” and “Planet of the Ood”, moving along to “The Sontaran Strategem/Poison Sky” double episode (not Hugo nominated, but Tansy felt they were important to talk about – we agreed!). I would like to mention a couple of things about the preceding two episodes though. In “The Fires of Pompeii”, we saw Donna make the Doctor to rescue just one family from the eruption, effectively forcing him to remember that EVERYONE MATTERS, and clearly setting her up as his conscience and moral compass. This is interesting when followed by “Planet of the Ood”, when his compassion is demonstrated in his fight to save the Ood despite their apparently murderous tendencies. Donna’s impact is swift and cannot be overstated, as it becomes so important later on!

DAVID:

“Planet of the Ood” is an excellent episode, because it highlights the idea of the Doctor as an outsider who challenges the status quo of the times and places that he and his companions arrive in. The episode manages to ask some important moral questions and has some genuinely creepy and shocking moments, like when we find out what their translation sphere has actually replaced.

And, I always enjoy a good historical episode, especially one where we know exactly what *has* to happen to fit into history as we know it, and wonder how the Doctor is going to save the day (or the people in the episode that we care about) given that catastrophe is going to strike, no matter what.

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TANSY:
“The Fires of Pompeii” is one of my favourites. Not only did they use some of the very authentic sets from HBO’s Rome, but they also used some really delicious snippets of real Roman social history. And Donna is wonderful in it. He needs her so much … and it’s wonderful to see how much she blossoms and grows in confidence as she realises that.

TEHANI:

Two good episodes to set us on the right path for the Donna/Doctor relationship. And then we come to “The Sontaran Strategem/Poison Sky” duo!

DAVID:

Given the title, it is hardly a spoiler to talk about how excited I was to see the return of one of my favourite alien races from Classic Who. I always loved the concept of the Sontarans and their endless war with the Rutans, so this was a bit of a fanboy moment. We’ve noted how there has been a concerted effort to show the New Who is a continuation of what has gone before, and it always thrills me to see one of the familiar foes of the Doctor. They may not be the Daleks, but the Sontarans have certainly given the Doctor some trouble. In fact, they are one of the few races to successfully attack Gallifrey itself, IIRC.

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TANSY:
Oh, Sontarans. I love them. I may love them more that Cybermen and Daleks, even if mostly when I think of them it’s of the first appearance of one Sontaran in “The Time Warrior”, a wonderful Pertwee story which was also Sarah Jane Smith’s debut.

I really like what the new series has done with this classic monster, and this story by Helen Rayner (the only female writer of the new series!) is a really good reintroduction to them. The premise of the Sontarans as a ruthless clone race eternally at war, and their motives for what they are doing to the Earth in this particular strategem of theirs, all comes together really nicely. The clone aspect was not overly significant in the old series, so I like the way that is emphasised here along with the military obsessions.

They’re short but feisty! I know some fans winced a bit at the Sontar haka, but I loved it as a pointed, effective way to show what the Sontarans are like to a modern audience. It’s also great to see Christopher Ryan back in Doctor Who playing the leader, and oh I did spot Dan Starkey and the gap between his teeth as one (or many?) of the less high ranked Sontarans. I WONDER IF HE’LL BE IMPORTANT TO US IN THE FUTURE.

TEHANI:

There’s a lot to like about these episodes. I hadn’t encountered Sontarans before, from memory, and it was good to revisit this double episode in light of more recent ones! I got a bit annoyed with the American genius this time around (hello, X-Men riff, anyone?) but the tie-back of the work of the genius school to the ending was well done.

TANSY:
I don’t think you’re supposed to like him! I think the idea is that if you had a super SUPER genius kid (which is a common SF trope) who also happened to be a millionaire then realistically they would be more likely to end up a supervillain than a hero. Also, he had been less annoying his sacrifice would have been far more tragic. I really love the scene where his fellow students use to join him on his quest because it’s just not a good idea. His grand plans come to nothing because they’re not sociopaths. It’s a very effective moment.

TEHANI:

I thoroughly enjoyed Wilf again – he’s just fabulous! And I liked the little nods to continuity: in particular, “Are you my mummy?” made me giggle out loud!

DAVID:

Of course, Wilf and the Sontarans aren’t the only familiar faces to pop up in this episode! There is another moment for the old school fans with the return of UNIT, but I think everyone would have been delighted to see the return of Martha. I like this version of Martha, I thought she showed that she had grown as a person since she had left the Doctor and was a bit more mature and more sure of herself that she had been previously.

The_Sontaran_Stratagem_064

TANSY:

Oh Martha, I do love her really. So glad to have her over that whole crush thing and she can get on with being awesome. I feel like she gets a bad rap as a companion because the crush on the Doctor gets more and more annoying in hindsight and it’s hard for many fans to see past that. I worry I might be one of those fans.

But she’s so good here – she’s found her own life and the fact that it’s one the Doctor disapproves of it’s actually quite satisfying. I am not keen on the whole ‘UNIT pushed my degree through’ aspect, though, would prefer it if she had qualified properly and this was a few years later.

Martha and Donna together are one of the great joyful aspects of new series Doctor Who, and it’s sad that it didn’t last long. Even less time than Jack-Rose-Nine, sob! The scene in which the Doctor expects them to fight and instead they hug and start gossiping and refuse to be jealous of each other is GLORIOUS and THE BEST THING EVER.

DAVID:

It’s definitely refreshing to see two woman NOT fighting over a man in a TV series, rather than the usual trope. There was an element of that in “School Reunion”, for example, that I didn’t really enjoy. It makes sense to me that Martha and Donna would bond over the shared frustrations of travelling with the Doctor. After all, how many people are you ever going to get to talk to who understand what it is like? So, I am glad that they went that way with their encounter.

As I’ve said before, Martha is one of my favourite aspects of New Who, and it is great to see that she hasn’t simply stopped living her life because of the Doctor, but is getting on with things and being who she wants to be. Just like we know Sarah Jane did, whatever “School Reunion” might have implied!

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TEHANI:

It’s definitely nice to see more of Martha, and find out that yes, she’s doing pretty well actually. It makes me even more sad for what happens to certain other companions when they leave the TARDIS…

TANSY:

Having UNIT back is also important to me, and while they’ve flirted with it in the past this is the first one that feels like a real UNIT story. It does however make me miss Nicholas Courtney quite fiercely. The Doctor gets to use military resources while grumbling about guns, which is a nice Doctorish thing to do. His misappropriation of Ross into a kind of alternative companion was really sweet and I like that Ross had a snarky sense of humour that came out after an hour or two in the Doctor’s company. We like Ross! Don’t kill off Ross!

(I do think that the Doctor went a bit far with chiding the general at the end for not treating Ross like a real person after his death – DUDE, think about how many letters home this man has had to write in his career, put your judgy hat back on the judgy hatstand…)

One aspect of this story that I think could easily get lost in all the awesomesauce is the great use of Sylvia, Donna’s mum. Sylvia is a hard character to like, because her role is to show us all the reasons Donna doesn’t think she’s worth anything, and to balance out the supportiveness of Wilf. But I think they realised their mistake with Francine in the previous season, who was written as so unrelentingly horrible (all her scenes have her complaining about Martha or someone else in her family, and then she betrays Martha and then she hates the Master – she never gets to crack a smile).

Sylvia then gets some nice positive moments amongst all the negative ones, and it’s good because we really need to sympathise with her later in the season, and this is the story that sets us up to do that. The cliffhanger in the middle of this one is one of my favourites – Wilf is trapped in the car choking to death, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver can’t get him out of the car, and the same thing is happening to everyone around the world. the Doctor is in total despair … and when the second episode starts, Sylvia (last seen cowering in her doorway) turns up with an AXE because she’s not an IDIOT, and does the obvious but still valiant thing of smashing the window in to save her dad.

TEHANI:

The mum/daughter relationships of New Who are interesting. Rose and Martha do still clearly love their mums, despite the flaws we are shown, but Donna, being a bit older, is less obviously a loving daughter. Part of that could also be she gets to have a much more supportive relationship with Wilf, but I agree Tansy, it’s good to see Sylvia get to be a bit of a hero in that scene. And perhaps the companions’ families are something to chat more about when we get to Amy and Rory, eh… Interesting to see what effects a different show runner has!

TANSY:

I know that Jackie has had a massive re-evaluation by fans retrospectively (and some of us loved her all along) and she’s still the cuddliest of the mums, but I do appreciate Sylvia more and more. She’s every bit as trapped in mundanity as Donna was – where was the Doctor thirty years ago, eh? A trip in the TARDIS back then could have done her the world of good.

DAVID:

By the end, I had grown to appreciate Jackie a whole lot more, but Francine really grated on me. I think it is a mistake to write completely unsympathetic characters because, really, it’s very hard to keep them believable. Francine sometimes seemed more like a plot device, acting in certain ways to ensure the story went in a certain direction, rather than a real person. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with Sylvia, and the whole dynamic of Donna’s family, because already it is very interesting.

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TEHANI:

I never really minded Francine – I felt like she’d had a pretty rough trot with Martha’s dad, and her bitterness was quite understandable! And in all, she really was just trying to look out for Martha, only she had no clue what was going on.

To bring us back to these episodes, I was pleased with the ending – I thought boy genius Rattigan’s sacrifice to save the Earth was logical and nicely redeeming.

And I’m interested to know what David thought of the cameo appearance of Rose again?

DAVID:

Didn’t she do something similar in “Partners in Crime”? It’s intriguing, I assume it is setting up for something in future episodes. I never really believed that Rose was completely cut off from the main universe, I had a feeling that she’d be back at some point. But, I hope we find out she has moved on from the Doctor, except for fond memories, and has built a fulfilling new life for herself. But, I think I might be setting myself up for disappointment!

TEHANI:

Well, we should just get a hurry on through the episodes so YOU CAN FIND OUT! Onwards!

Previous Episodes
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S04E01 – Partners in Crime

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We’re also joined today by guest viewer Lynne M. Thomas, co-editor of the Hugo-winning book Chicks Dig Time Lords and co-creator of the new Doctor Who podcast Verity! Lynne gives Tansy a run for her money when it comes to Doctor Who expertise and we welcome her to our review!

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“Partners in Crime” – S04E01
The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate

DAVID:
So, obviously the big news with this episode is the return of Donna, and I for one was thrilled. I really enjoyed her character in this episode, more so than in “The Runaway Bride”, to be honest. She seemed to have a bit more depth to her this time around, and I quite liked the idea of her as the enterprising journalist, sneaking around and gathering information.

TEHANI:
I love Donna so much! She’s brash and ditzy but really smart and deeply passionate and grounded, under the ditz and show! I’ve rewatched this episode a bunch of times though, and still keep seeing Donna’s desperate search for aliens as just that – a bit desperate, as if she’s realised what she let go when she chose not to go with the Doctor, and will do anything to get it back. Not from a romantic or lost (potential) love point of view or anything, but it’s just, well, desperate! It’s one of the sour notes of this episode for me, but there’s so much else I loved 🙂 Particularly – DONNA’S BACK!

LYNNE:
I love this episode like pie. The dynamic between the Doctor and Donna, particularly in the scenes where they are miming across the room at each other, reminds me of the best screwball comedies from the 30s and 40s.

Both Tennant and Tate’s performances are pitch perfect, down to Tennant’s obvious discomfort with the young lady at Adipose Industries giving him her phone number, and Tate’s acting the first time she claps eyes on an adipose for herself, which is a splendid mix of disbelief, triumph, and moderated fear because the things are so darned cute. All of which she is likely doing as she reacts to a tennis ball on a stick off camera.

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DAVID:
To me, Donna comes across as very single minded and determined when she has set a goal, and this is comes across really well in this episode. The only thing that I struggled with was that in between seeing her in “The Runaway Bride” and in this episode I have been watching her in The Office – a very different role!

But, yes, Tate has an incredible talent for physical comedy (all comedy, really), and the scene’s with her and Tennant are hilarious. Sometimes RTD’s scripts try for comedy and fall a little short, but in the two T’s he has the perfect tools for the job.

TANSY:
Ooh I have been meaning to watch that season of The Office, purely for her. Does it matter I haven’t watched the previous seasons?
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